FERC revokes license for failure to build fish passage at 687-kW East Juliette hydro project

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has revoked the hydropower license of the 687-kW East Juliette hydroelectric project due to the licensee’s failure over 12 years to construct required fish passage at the Georgia project.

Eastern Hydroelectric Corp. held the license for East Juliette (No. 7019) since 1995. The project includes a 20-foot-tall, 1,230-foot-long concrete gravity dam on the Ocmulgee River in Jones County, Ga., that, since 1921, has blocked anadromous fish passage from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ocmulgee. The project includes a 458-kW powerhouse on the east bank of the river and a south powerhouse containing a 229-kW unit that has not operated since 1999.

In 2002, the commission amended the license to allow construction of a third powerhouse containing a 1.2-MW generating unit, which the licensee has never built. The amendment contained additional conditions requiring construction of fish passage facilities in consultation with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

FERC’s Oct. 16 license revocation order outlined years of orders to Eastern for consultations, filings of plans and commencement of fish passage construction, with no progress. FERC said Eastern’s failure to make any meaningful progress in 12 years gave it no reason to believe it intends to comply with the fish passage mandate.

“Georgia DNR, NMFS and FWS state that restoring access to historical spawning habitat for American shad is among their highest priorities for the region,” FERC said. “With Eastern Hydro’s continued non-compliance with the conditions of its license, the project will continue to block the upstream passage of American shad through the project.

“For the above reasons, we find that, under (Federal Power Act) Section 31(b), Eastern Hydro knowingly violated the September 2013 compliance order and that it was given a reasonable time to comply with the order before we commenced the revocation proceeding. Consequently, we revoke Eastern Hydro’s license for the East Juliette project.”

The commission ordered Eastern, within 10 days, to permanently disable the project’s generating equipment and said authority over the site would pass to Georgia’s dam regulatory authorities. However, conservation groups American Rivers and Altamaha Riverkeeper intervened in the case, asking FERC to order Eastern to remove all project works including generating equipment, the powerhouses and other infrastructure, opening the opportunity for dam removal. FERC declined to do so.

“As a general rule, we do not condition the effectiveness of a license revocation by imposing additional requirements on a licensee that has shown its unwillingness to comply with other commission orders, given that doing so would be impractical — a licensee that has failed to comply with license requirements would be unlikely to comply with those requirements when made part of a license revocation that it opposes,” FERC said.

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